The award-winning translators of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Gogol now bring us a Russian writer ripe for rediscovery, whose earthy and exuberant stories, famous in his own country, have never before been adequately translated into English.Read more...
FREE Shipping for Club Members
Not a member? Join Today!
The award-winning translators of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Gogol now bring us a Russian writer ripe for rediscovery, whose earthy and exuberant stories, famous in his own country, have never before been adequately translated into English.
Leskov was Chekhov's favorite writer and was greatly admired by Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky. His short stories--innovative in form, richly playful in language, now tragic, now satirical, now wildly comic in subject matter--exploded the prevailing traditions of nineteenth-century Russian fiction and paved the way for such famous literary successors as Mikhail Bulgakov. These seventeen stories are visionary and fantastic, and yet always grounded in reality, peopled by outsized characters that include serfs, princes, military officers, Gypsy girls, wayward monks, horse dealers, nomadic Tartars, and, above all, the ubiquitous figure of the garrulous, enthralling, not entirely trustworthy storyteller.
In stories long considered classics, Leskov takes the speech patterns of oral storytelling and spins them in new and startlingly modern ways, presenting seemingly artless yarns that are in fact highly sophisticated. It is the great gift of this new translation that it allows us to hear the many vibrant voices of Leskov's singular art.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-03-25
- Reviewer: Staff
A forgotten 19th-century Russian master, Leskov was celebrated in his own time by luminaries no less than Tolstoy and Chekhov; this collection, presented in an appropriately folksy translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, makes it easy to see why. A relic of an older mode of narrative where tight narration and characterization give way to the sheer joy of storytelling, Leskov is fond of mysticism, framing narratives, and parabolic character sketches made all the more charming by their digressions and meanderings. In the title story, a reluctant monk relates his picaresque adventures across Russia as a Tartar hostage, a nursemaid, an actor, and an expert judge of horses before eventually surrendering to his destined role as a holy fool. In "The Sealed Angel", a group of itinerant bridge-builders pull off a daring church heist; an overly scrupulous and devout police constable wreaks havoc on a small town by refusing to be bribed in "Singlemind"; and in "Lefty" a simple gunsmith is made to behold the wonders of the England. Seasoned with equal parts humor and social commentary, Leskov's stories prove gentle but infectious portraits of the sorrow and joys of Russian peasantry. (Mar.)
Rediscovering a Russian master of the short story
Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Turgenev, Chekhov, Leskov. Leskov? In his native Russia, the 19th-century writer Nikolai Leskov is counted among the greats, yet in our country, few know his work and even fewer have actually read it. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, the translating team (and married couple) who have twice been awarded the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize (for their versions of The Brothers Karamazov and Anna Karenina), rightly believe that Leskov’s work deserves a wider English-language readership. Their latest translation project, The Enchanted Wanderer: and Other Stories, offers new renderings of 17 classic Leskov tales.
A number of common features distinguish many of these stories. Leskov often drew on the Russian tradition of “oral writing” called skaz, which incorporates the teller into the tale (much the way Chaucer did). It is a congenial technique that draws the reader in, as if sitting by a warm fire on a winter’s night listening to a casual storyteller impart some truth. It also lends an anecdotal element of realism to the stories, and in his day, Leskov—who was also a journalist—was sometimes accused of merely reporting things he had observed or heard. He never denied this claim. In the introduction, Pevear quotes the author as saying, “I love literature as a means enabling me to express what I hold to be true and good. If I cannot do that, literature is of no value to me: looking upon it as art is not my point of view. I absolutely cannot understand the concept of ‘art for art’s sake.’ No, art must be useful.”
Leskov’s entertaining tales are laced with humor and anecdotal realism.
Despite what may seem a high-minded manifesto, though, Leskov’s stories are at their core entertainments, albeit ones that unsentimentally portray the panoply of Russian society at the time—peasants, the mercantile class and the aristocracy alike. And, perhaps most notably, they are often very funny, capturing a peculiarly Slavic gallows humor even when the stakes are dire. Take, for example, the first story in the collection, “The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” (which opera fans will recognize as the source material for Dmitri Shostakovich’s controversial 20th-century composition, much reviled and banned by Stalin). As the title implies, the story chronicles the murderous doings of a discontented wife, yet even at its darkest moments, there is levity to be found in the amoral behavior of Katerina Lvovna and her lover.
Leskov’s stories unfold leisurely, and some of the key works featured here might better be described as novellas. The picaresque title story, for example, runs for some 120 pages. Yet there are shorter gems, too, such as “The Pearl Necklace,” a Christmastime tale about generosity of spirit, and “A Little Mistake,” which offers a bemused glimpse at the malleability of faith when employed to avert a scandal. The comic jewel “The Tale of Cross-eyed Lefty from Tula and the Steel Flea”—here just called “Lefty”—is one of Leskov’s more widely known stories. Its hilarious folktale-like narrative tells of a Russian craftsman who competes with his English counterparts by building a small mechanical flea.
In a translator’s note, Pevear and Volokhonsky write that Leskov is notoriously difficult to translate, his stories being so indelibly Russian both in spirit and in their use of the colloquial. With these translations they have managed a formidable job, maintaining the master’s voice and allowing these essential Russian stories to retain a distinct 19th-century flavor while keeping them fresh and alive for the modern reader.